Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Farewell, 2010

A trip to New Mexico the week before Christmas obliterated all thoughts of blog posting, of work, of being productive in any way. I arrived as I have so many times before - tired, hungry, and in need of some serious rest. I had only two things on my agenda: the annual solstice party I've attended for over 25 years with my close friends, and a Christmas eve party with a group of people I've known for almost as long. The rest was unimportant.

The weather cooperated. It was cloudy for much of the time -- unusual for New Mexico at any time of the year. The winds were ferocious. One day, we had snow flurries, which prompted me to build a fire in the kiva fireplace in the living room. I sat in front of it all day and read "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" by Betty Smith. I've known about that book all my life, and if they made a film of it, I probably saw it. But this was the first time I read it, and what a rich and rewarding read it is. It's the kind of writing we don't see much of anymore - subtle and nuanced, rich in it's descriptions, and a story where not much "happens". No shootings, no drug busts, no gangs, no jet setting around the world - just life as it was lived in the early part of the 20th century in Brooklyn.

So I end 2010 with a wish for all of us: That 2011 brings us all the food we'd care to have on our tables, and enough left over to donate to those less fortunate. All the clothing we need to keep us warm in the winter, with enough left over to give to those who have less. And the warmth of family and friends to light our hearts for the entire year, no matter what the weather. May you all have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Post-Thanksgiving Persian Style Eggplant

Oh, how I wished this looked as good as it tastes, because it actually tastes quite good. It's the walnuts. I know it is. They made everything tan. But when I served this at a potluck recently, people actually went back for seconds.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The potluck: A friend had just returned from a trip to Iran with National Geographic Expeditions. They went to all sorts of places - many of the places that tourists would want to go, and some places up in the north that most tourists never make it to. They visited sites whose history stretches back over 4,000 years. The roots of that civilization run deep.

During the course of this trip, their guide was quite open with them, and they had a chance to ask all kinds of "sensitive" questions. The outcome was not surprising: The news we get in this country isn't the same as what the people in Iran think and feel and know to be true. It's the blind men and the elephant all over again. I don't pretend to have a handle on the truth here, just a great appreciation for some understanding of how the people of Iran view the US - they were overwhelmingly positive about Americans - and how they viewed our respective governments - they felt that the problems between our countries had more to do with government than the people.

A lively discussion followed the slide and video show my friend presented to us. I was delighted to be in the company of a group of people who have traveled widely and who were interested in other cultures and ideas. I was also delighted to be treated to some imaginative food. One woman brought a dish which consisted of lentils, dates, beef and I don't remember what else. I must find out in order to create something in that theme. It was the only other dish which might have been considered Persian. (Just think "lamb" instead of "beef".)

I knew I was going to do an eggplant dish as a compliment to the theme of the evening. And once I understood that eggplant would be my contribution, I immediately thought of combining it with walnuts and pomegranate. Very middle eastern. I searched and found a recipe - I can't remember where - which I followed quite loosely. This is what I copied for the ingredients:

5 Asian eggplants (2lb), or 2 large common eggplants with bitterness removed
6 t
Olive oil
Medium-sized onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves
Garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tsp
Ground cumin
1/4 tsp
Ground cinnamon
2 tsp
1 tsp
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp
Ground turmeric
1 tsp
Crushed red pepper
1 cup
Chopped fresh parsley
2 cups
Chopped cilantro leaves, plus 1 cup leaves for garnish
1/2 cup
Chopped fresh mint
2 cups
(1/2 lb) toasted walnuts
1/2 cup
Pomegranate paste diluted with 2 1/2 cups water, or 3 cups pomegranate juice
1 t
Honey or brown sugar, as needed

And the preparation:

1. Peel eggplants, and remove stems. Place segments of common eggplants, if using, in salted water to remove bitterness. Rinse Asian eggplants, squeeze out water with towels and slice into 1 inch thick rounds.

2. Heat 4 T oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add eggplant, and saute on all sides about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove eggplants from skillet, drain on paper towels and set aside. Add remaining oil to skillet, and reheat over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Add garlic during last few minutes of browning onions, and continue cooking. Add cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper, turmeric, crushed red pepper, parsley, cilantro and fresh mint, and saute for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.

3. Grind walnuts in food processor until very fine or sauce will be gritty. Combine walnuts with diluted pomegranate paste and honey, as needed, and stir until sauce is smooth.

4. Pour sauce into skillet. Return eggplants and seasoning to skillet, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer mixture for 30 minutes, or until eggplants are tender, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon. If sauce is too sour, add more honey or brown sugar to taste.

Kitchen Notes:

OK, so I didn't do this exactly. I didn't get to the store which sells pomegranate seeds, but I did find myself in Whole Foods where I got some pomegranate molasses. I've been wanting to experiment with it for some time, and this seemed like the perfect excuse. I think pomegranate molasses has become my new favorite ingredient! You'll need some brown sugar for this, as the molasses isn't all that sweet, but keep tasting it till it seems right.

Oh, and that step #3 above? That's where everything turns tan. I'm thinking that I'm going to experiment next time with some chopped walnuts and adding some pomegranate seeds to make it look prettier. I'll also use some pomegranate juice in addition to the molasses to have enough sauce.

If you try this one and experiment with it, I'd love to hear how you changed it!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mac-n-cheese for fall

I kept wondering what I was going to do with that second half of the pumpkin. Pumpkin bread kept coming to mind - or perhaps muffins. They'd be great to bring to work. Oh, but I really wanted those pumpkin muffins! But somehow, they just didn't want to be baked. It seemed to me that the pumpkin had other ideas, and it was my job to figure out what those ideas were.

So I thought about it as I went about my days, cooking other meals, reaching into the pantry for other ingredients, and spying that pumpkin, lying in it's bag in the bottom of the fridge.

Just who ARE you, and why can't you just be something ordinary, like bread?
Pumpkin was silent.

I began using the island in my kitchen to cut mattes. Our office has been redecorated with new colors, a new desk and new carpeting. There's a lot of wall space, just waiting for something to go up, and I've got a lot of photos that need to be hung up. A friend gave me a matte cutter, and I've made more trips than I'd care to think about to the art store for mattes. It's been fun, but humbling. My friend who gave me the matte cutter told me that it was simple. It's not. I've yet to achieve that perfectly straight edge, even though I'm using a blade that hooks onto a metal rail, so to speak. But I will get better at this if I keep doing it. I'm determined....

So my kitchen has been used for art projects more than cooking. (It's a good think I make large amounts when I cook -- I'd never survive without leftovers!) Art projects make me hungry, and I find myself snacking. Reaching into the pantry for some dried fruit....or just searching for an idea....

And then I realized that I've been looking at the answer to pumpkin's second incarnation all along. That jar with the little elbow pasta, sitting in the front of the pantry..... It's getting dark early, and even though it isn't particularly cold, it's still the time of year where I start looking for comfort food. How about a pumpkin mac and cheese? Never heard of it, but it sounded like it might work.

I started by making some browned sage butter, then added the pumpkin, which I had mashed with a potato masher. And then I grated some sharp cheddar. I bought a package which weighed in at .72 pounds, and I used about half of it. After stirring that into the mashed pumpkin, I added the mixture to the cooked pasta, scooped it into baking dishes and popped it into a 375 oven for about 15-20 minutes. It turned out surprisingly well for something that took almost no time or effort to make. It had a nice balance between sweet and salty, and that hint of sage in the background. The only thing I might tinker with is the idea of throwing in some roasted pumpkin seeds. I think I'd like the crunch...

The dish you see in the photo was given to me by the wonderful Cynthia over at Tastes Like Home. I made a comment on her blog that I loved the serving pan she had in one of her photos, and the next thing I knew she sent me two of them! Is that gracious, or what?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pumpkin Soup

It's that time of the year again. I absolutely adore autumn!! My biggest problem with living in San Diego is that the weather here is so incredibly temperate the whole year long, that we don't get that achingly beautiful autumn that I remember from childhood. Oh, we have it - but if you live in town you have to drive to the mountains to really experience it. It's only about an hour's drive, but that's different than walking out your door in the morning and feeling it, seeing it, smelling it. And yes, tasting it.

Autumn is winter squash time. Pumpkin time. Oranges and dark, dark greens. I had a large pumpkin sitting on my counter, threatening to rot. I do not, as a rule, let food rot. I love food too much to let it rot. So I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, put a little olive oil on it and roasted it, cut side down on a cookie sheet.

That stopped the rot. Now I had to figure out how to deal with all this pumpkin. This post is about half of it. The soup half. I've made plenty of squash soups in my life, but I don't believe I've ever made one using pumpkin. But in China I ate pumpkin made with garlic - a combo which intrigued me and which turned out to be drop-dead phenomenal. I have no idea what else went into it, but we all ate that one down in a heartbeat. Anyway, it got me to thinking about pumpkin as having much more value than just as a pie filling. So I decided to go for a soup - with an Asian flare.

Now I had to decide what I meant by an Asian flare. I decided that fish sauce and sugar - two basic ingredients in Asian cooking - were essential. And then there's lime. Since I couldn't decide between Kaffir lime leaves or lime juice, I decided to do both. I threw in a handful of leaves, and at the last minute opted for lime zest.

Chicken stock and low fat coconut milk combined to make a tasty stock. I decided not to puree the soup, but to leave some chunks of pumpkin in it. When I tasted it, it still needed something.... maybe some more salt? I scoured my pantry and spied a bottle of Ponzu. Perfect! A good splash of that and voila! A Halloween-cum-Thanksgiving pumpkin soup, perfect for guests, and rescued just in time before it was devoured by a certain new cat.....What's your favorite way to use pumpkin? I need ideas for Part II!!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Food in China

With close to one and a half billion people to feed, the Chinese use all available space to grow food. And what food!!! Amid the rice terraces, you'll find plots of taro.
And one day, while hiking through the mountains, we came across this woman washing these huge vegetables in a stream. What kind of veggies? I haven't a clue.Everywhere we went, there was corn. Corn hanging from buildings...

And corn ears being shucked by a local farmer....Was this corn for the pigs or for human consumption? We never found out. But every little restaurant we went to had fresh food which was prepared when we ordered it...
And of course, there were some restaurants we avoided...(if you can read the sign, you'll know why!)
Congee was prepared on the streets the way pho is available everywhere in Vietnam...
And thank God we didn't have to live without chili!!!

It was definitely fall. You didn't have to be on the streets of Manhattan to smell the chestnuts..
But you knew you weren't in Manhattan when you saw the sugar cane...China is a food lover's paradise. It is a photographer's paradise. It's also a high tech and high fashion mecca. There's so much to say about it that I obviously cannot say it all in one post. But I'll leave you with one thought. Consider this:

Beijing is the size of Belgium.

And that's just the capital. One city.

Nothing in China is on a small scale....

To be continued....

Friday, September 17, 2010


I'm off to China! Flying to Beijing first, and then down to Guilin for a photo tour. It's hard for me to believe that after all these years of practicing Chinese medicine, I'll actually be going to "the mother land"!!!

I'll be back in early October......Until then, tsai chien!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pie Are Squared

I first heard the term "tamale pie" from a friend of mine who gave me the recipe. I've long since lost the recipe, but the concept stayed with me, even through "The New Mexican Years". Admittedly, this bears no resemlance to tamales, but that's America for you. Grab onto a good idea and run with it.

Because I'm an acupuncturist and involved in wholistic health, people who don't know me assume I'm "pure" - or whatever they mean by that term -- that I'm a vegetarian or a vegan. I'm not, although I often eat vegetarian meals and can whip up a pretty impressive vegan meal. But periodically the carnivore in me emerges, and when it does, anything goes.

This week, the carnivore came out. I found myself at Whole Foods in front of the meat counter, staring at a package of buffalo meat. I decided it had been way too long since I'd made a tamale pie, so I grabbed some of it, as well as some Kosher ground chicken. I was off to make "White Girl Tamale Pie". Let's face it - the words "tamale" and "pie" in that order in a sentence = white girl! Sounds to me like something that's more out of Good Housekeeping magazine than out of New Mexico magazine.

The concept is easy - Just put a layer of corn tortillas in the bottom of a baking dish. Cover that with a layer of your favorite meat, onion and chili, add some black beans and corn, grate some cheese over the top and throw it in the oven at 350 until it starts to bubble. I use Hatch green chili, but you could just as easily use red chili powder. If you buy a tin of chili powder in the supermarket, it will often come mixed with oregano. That, to me, is not what I mean when I say "chili". Chili is a pepper. It can be red or green, but it's a pepper. It's not a mixture of meat and beans and peppers either - though if you're from Texas it is. But if you're from New Mexico, it's peppers. If it's powdered, it's just peppers. When they ask you in a restaurant "red or green?", they're talking about the peppers - often mixed with onion and garlic.

Anyway, since this is White Girl Tamale Pie, you can pretty much turn it into whatever version of Betty Crocker that suits your fancy. Mine turned out a little too mild for my taste, but I remedied that by adding some chopped tomatoes which I picked from my garden, some more green chili and some diced red onion, mixed together to make my own version of salsa.
I think the reason I opted for turning buffalo and canned beans into White Girl Tamale Pie is because I can't think these days. I needed something that could sustain me for several days without my having to come up with something original. You see, my precious cat disappeared the last day of August. It's been devastating. I've had a number of wonderful cats and dogs in my life, and each is special. But then there was Boo.Right now my hope is that someone took her, because there is no sign of anything else in the canyon behind my house. I've scoured it and today a friend of mine scoured it for an hour and a half. Nothing. I'm leaving for China next weekend. My greatest wish is that Boo will show up somehow before I leave....standing at the front door, complaining.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

MFK Fisher Revisited...Or...Pass the Wolf, Please..

The news is a constant source of sorrow. There's seldom a bright spot - it's all about job losses and housing prices falling, and people unable to afford health care, and criminal politicians. And all of that against a backdrop of global warming and unending wars.

So it seemed like a good time to re-read MFK Fisher's "How To Cook A Wolf". First published in 1942 against a backdrop of wartime food shortages, the book was written as a meditation on how to live with grace under the cruelest circumstances. With the wolf sniffing at the door, the most practical response is to learn how to cook the wolf. She speaks of the men and women who cooked and marketed their way though the war who "will feel, until their final days on earth, a kind of culinary caution: butter, no matter how unlimited, is a precious substance not lightly to be wasted; meats, too, and eggs, and all the far-brought spices of the world, take on a new significance having once been so rare. And that is good, for there can be no more shameful carelessness than with the food we eat for life itself. When we exist without thought or thanksgiving we are not men, but beasts."

I consider myself among the lucky... I have a job. Well, I'm self employed, so of course I have a job, and even though business is slower than it's been, I still have work. I've seen the wolf in the canyon below my house. My neighbors have reported it in their back yards. But so far, he has not come to my door.

How to Catch the Wolf

A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

While I'm not always sure about the magnificence, I know that everyone around me seems to be more interested in the notion that food comes from the earth. Small pots of herbs seem to be springing up in everyone's kitchens or tiny side yards. More people are joining community gardens. When I put my lunch in the fridge at work yesterday, I noticed one of those black plastic, one gallon pots from a nursery, sitting next to the sink with tiny yellow and red grape tomatoes in it. Someone's overflow.

Leftovers have become popular again. I've known people who, for many years, wouldn't consider saving leftovers. At the end of each dinner, they'd toss whatever was left over into the garbage. I always stood there in mute horror as I watched perfectly good food being thrown away. Now these same people, while not always creative with their leftovers, are dumping them back into a container and stashing them in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch.

When I lived in New Mexico, I learned about leftovers. Bob would always cook huge meals, even though there was usually just the two of us. But that gave us plenty of leftovers - some eaten "straight up" (just the way they were cooked originally), and some turned into another kind of a dish - a soup, a stew, a curry. One of Bob's go-to solutions for leftovers was pasta or rice. By sauteing an onion and some garlic, he primed us for a meal. If anyone walked in at that point, there was the inevitable "Boy, that smells good! What are you making?"
These are two variations of my standard leftover fare. There's a rice version with some leftover veggies, and a pasta version (about to be popped into the oven) with some chopped up chicken breast (left over from a barbecue) and the remains of some mozzarella cubed over the top. Both could be considered as being made by someone "living on a war budget", but the addition of herbs (fresh from my garden), and/or chili and some rich cheese, yields - perhaps not magnificence - but surprisingly satisfying meals.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A cool summer brings out the baker in me

While the northeast is sweltering under oppressive heat, we in San Diego find ourselves wondering when summer will begin. We've had May Gray, June Gloom, and July forgot that it wasn't June. Now it's August and the sun is starting to poke out in the afternoon. My tomatoes are still green. The basil is in it's infancy still. I don't have enough sun in my yard to plant corn, nor would the infestation of gophers for the last 2 years make that a wise choice.

So when all else fails, I bake.

I had two friends staying with me recently who, when they saw these loaves come out of the oven, declared them to be "Jesus loaves". Gotta love that -- the Jew bakes Jesus loaves! But they do smell divine as they're cooling on the rack. And they're sourdough, so they're perfect for all manner of things - cheese, French toast, or just dipping in some lovely olive oil.

I got the recipe from Peter Reinhart's book "The Bread Baker's Apprentice". The recipe goes on for 3 or 4 pages - and that's after you've gotten your starter (barm) going. So there's no way I'm going to post that here....I'd be up for the rest of the night. But I DID bake a sourdough bread and posted the recipe a couple of years ago. You can read about that here. The picture I took of that one was stunning......I must find that book again!

Mission Valley Acupuncture is now on facebook! I hope some of you stop by and have a look. My posts are about health, but of course, that includes food!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Trouble came and went...and then we ate

My transmission died on the way to New Mexico earlier this month. I was heading east on the freeway, about an hour from Tucson, when I noticed white smoke coming out of the back of my car. I don't understand white smoke. I just knew that when I pressed on the gas, the engine revved up but I didn't go any faster. I checked the temperature gauge and it was normal. I drifted over to the side of the road and manage to coast part way up an exit ramp and stopped on the side. There was a car stopped in front of me.
I pulled my cell phone out and searched for my AAA card. The man in the car ahead of me got out, walked back to my car and told me to pop my hood. I did, but didn't pay much attention to him. I was busy trying to find the phone number for AAA outside of California. Turns out that this man was truly an angel sent to help me. It took over 45 minutes for the AAA man to figure out where I was, even though I was on an exit ramp on a major freeway. The man from the car waited patiently while I tried over and over again to explain to AAA which exit I was on and where it was. The man from the car checked my oil level and fiddled with who knows what before heading back to his car. I noticed him moving stuff around in his car, making room in the back seat. That's when it dawned on me that he was making room for my luggage.
"Where are you going?" he asked me, when I finally got off the phone.
"So am I. I'll drive you to where you need to go."

When the tow truck showed up, they asked me where I wanted my car towed. How should I know? I told them I wasn't familiar with the area and didn't have a clue. They suggested a Pep Boys in Casa Grande - the closest town. At 6:30 on a Saturday night, I didn't have a choice. I transferred my luggage to the man's car, got in and he followed the tow truck to Casa Grande. After the men pushed it into one of the bays, the man from the car told them "You treat this woman right. Be good to her." They told me they'd diagnose my car the next day.
I got back into the man's car and off we went to Tucson. The logical side of my brain told me that I might have been nuts getting into a car with a stranger, but my heart told me that this man was good and wouldn't harm me. My heart was right. He drove me to my friend's house in Tucson where I always spend the night on my drives to New Mexico. We fed him some dinner, and when he went to leave, he took my hand and said "It was nice meeting you, even under these circumstances. The only thing I ask is that you pass it on to someone else who is in need someday."
Transmissions do not get repaired on Sundays, so I wound up renting a car and driving to New Mexico. That meant that I had to leave for Tucson on Friday morning in order to drop the rental car off and get to Casa Grande before they closed for the weekend. I followed my friend back to her house, spent the night, and drove back to San Diego the next day.
Now, the transmission saga meant that I didn't make it to New Mexico in time to join a couple of friends of mine who drove out a day ahead of me. We were all going to stay at my house and I was going to show them around. They only had a slightly long weekend, while I was supposed to be staying a week. When I got back to San Diego, they were at my house, waiting for me. I drove up and they came out to help with my luggage. All of my stuff was moved inside by the three of us in one trip. This might sound normal to many of you, but for me, it was heaven sent. I didn't have to do everything myself - what joy! And when I got inside, they had a glass of wine poured for me, and dinner was ready.

We started with a chilled melon soup:
My friend Darren sauteed an onion and some shallots until they were past translucent, added some sugar, thyme, and a healthy dose of fresh ginger. Then he added the "meat" of a whole honeydew, some thinly sliced white potato and some chicken stock. After it came to a boil, he simmered it for about 5 minutes and stuck it in the fridge to chill. The food processor churned it into soup, and after straining, he added some sour cream.


And them we moved on to the salad.........
Endive, sliced thinly, white anchovies, ruby grapefruit and shaved Parmesan. He didn't use the tips or the bottom of the endive - just the center part...and then dressed the whole thing with white balsamic, olive oil, dijon mustard, salt and pepper. After tossing and draining it (reserving the liquid), he arranged the slices of grapefruit over the top, squeezed the membrane of the grapefruit into the dressing and drizzled it over the top.

It was, in fact, over the top.

And then came the clams.........

After sauteeing shallot, garlic, sweet onion and fennel in olive oil and salt, Darren added the clams and covered the pot. He cranked it up to high to get them going. When they started hissing, he threw in a glug of cognac and finished it with some fennel leaf.

If trouble had to come my way, it came in the kindest, most gentle way I can imagine. I'm so grateful for the help I got on this past trip. There was stress involved - yes. But I was taken care of too, at every step of the way. How lucky is that?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July with Flag Cake

So this is what my sister does when she isn't celebrating major birthdays. Is there any wonder that everyone loves her?

I hope you all had a spectacular Fourth! I celebrated at a neighbor's house, where there was wine and food and even some live music! Everything paused at around 9pm, because from my neighbor's deck we could see the fireworks display over the bay. It's coordinated with music which one of the local radio stations plays. And when it was over, the trio that my neighbor hired began playing again - some original songs as well as some oldies. And the best part was that I could walk home, without having to fight traffic.

And tomorrow I get to sleep in..........;-)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Finishing a Video, Focaccia With Pine Nuts, Mushrooms

While digitizing the family's history is the larger project, the more pressing need has been to finish the digital slide show for my sister's upcoming birthday. I finished it last nite. My plane leaves at 8am tomorrow morning. This will be a brief post.

This has been an amazing learning curve. While my hobby has been taking photographs, putting together a digital slide show involves all kinds of knowledge which - as an acupuncturist - never comes into play in my life. But they say that one way to keep your brain young is to challenge it. I guess in that case, I've lost about 5 years in the last two months. Challenge? I'll say!! I am now aware of hidden corners of the digital world - such as formatting for DVDs and limitations of various programs. My eyes have become redder and my bottom has become squarer from sitting in front of a computer for so long.

But in the end, it comes down to the results. And I must admit to being pleased with the results. I'm glad I learned as much as I did with this, because it will make the next project flow more smoothly. There are photos going back to the late 1800s, and a few from 1900 and 1901. I've learned to be a ruthless editor, and to be obsessed with getting the right image to be on the screen at just the right moment in the particular song.

And through this whole process, I've managed somehow to tear myself away often enough to socialize with friends. And for me, that always seems to involve food. (I pick my friends carefully too!) So when I was invited a few weeks ago to a friend's party, I jumped at the chance to make this focaccia bread again. I had made it before and loved it. It's amazing how long a single focaccia can sustain you. Especially when you spend your days and nites in front of a computer!

To see the recipe, click here. The only difference is that this time I made it as a rectangle and topped it with caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms and pine nuts.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Project Update and Lentil-Quinoa Salad

"Could it be that it was all so simple then........Or has time re-written every line?" I look at the photo above and think - "both". It was much simpler then, in the sense that there were no cell phones, no computers, no internet, and I'm pretty sure that when this picture was taken back in 1938, there was no television either. I don't know when TV came into popular use, but I think it was after 1938. So life was simpler. It took a long time for news to reach us. In 1938 there was a war going on in Europe, and the images of that war reached us via newsreels, which were shown in movie theaters. Radio existed, of course, so people here heard the news, but it was all so far away. Until, of course, it reached us at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. But back in '38, it was still a distant war on another continent.

Life was simpler then because we didn't think it was necessary to stay in touch every day with everyone of our "friends" on facebook. We didn't need to answer the phone while we were driving. People wrote letters by hand and mailed them. There were times and places where we could be alone, or with our families, and if people wanted to talk with us, they'd have to drop by. My aunt used to drop by on her way somewhere, and leave a steaming hot apple pie in our kitchen, admonishing me to let it cool first before eating it. My uncle would stop by every Sunday to do the New York Times crossword puzzle with my mom. My grandparents, seated in the center of the photo above, would stop by on Sundays and take my older brother and sister out for a ride in their car. It was called a Sunday drive, and people used to do that for pleasure.

Or has time re-written every line? There's an uncle and an aunt in the photo above who later divorced. There's another uncle in that photo who caused a huge rift in our family, which has fortunately been healed by the cousins. The youngest blond girl, seated on her mom's lap above was the first to reach out to heal the rift. We never speak of what happened back then, because we have different understandings. But when we are children, we hear from our parents what has happened in our families, and so naturally she would have heard a different story from her parents than I heard from mine. And over the course of time, we have all come to the conclusion that we would rather have family than be right.

My current project is almost complete. I am waiting for a few more photos from a woman who knew my sister when she was in her 20s, and who had photographs of her from those days. (We didn't have cell phones with cameras back then, so photos were not taken as often.) Last nite I learned that I have a program on my computer that will take my slide show and convert it into a DVD which can be played on a DVD player. It wouldn't have occurred to me that this would be an issue until a colleague of mine mentioned it because she had made a slide show for her dad on his 80th birthday. That's when she discovered that there was more to it than making a digital slide show on a computer. There's the final step. She also told me that I should have the final product in more than one format, since it's possible that what works for me here might not work for me on my sister's equipment.

Delving into my family's past, going through all of the photos of us through the ages, has made me even more keenly aware of the beauty of simplicity. I don't want complicated or fussy. I've never been drawn to it, but I'm even less interested, if that's possible. I'm so grateful that I love to cook. I'm so grateful that I'm not a fast food person. It's a throwback to an era when food was made at home, and we brought it with us when we went anywhere - from school (lunch boxes), work (brown bags or lunch pails, depending on your job), or to the beach (soft coolers with ice). I consider it normal to eat fresh food, as do the readers of this blog and all of your readers as well. We have been the exception for a long time.

I made this lentil and quinoa salad to bring with me to work. It lasted for days, freeing me up to concentrate on making a slide show for my sister's upcoming birthday.
My husband used to say "start with what you've got in the fridge." As long as you've got a well stocked fridge, this works well. I learned back in those days to keep a pantry and fridge well stocked, so I had almost everything I used in this salad - quinoa, lentils, cherry tomatoes, garlic, vinegar and olive oil. I had a necessity for arugala that day. Don't know why, but sometimes these things just happen. Whole Foods is a short distance from my house and provides me with a small amount of exercise when I walk there. I have parsley and mint growing in my garden. So what I ended up with was a kind of variation of tabbouleh, but slightly more substantial with the addition of lentils. Since both lentils and quinoa cook quickly, this dish was a breeze to put together. A lot easier than a slide show, but satisfying, and simple. Because these are the good old days.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Revisiting Meema's Noodles and Cabbage

I think I mentioned that my sister is having one of those "big" birthdays, and that I'm making a slide show/video for her? When I wrote that, I thought of it as being a project which wasn't really going to be all that big. Not nearly as big as re-doing my website.


This project is enormous, thanks to the fact that it's the beginning of an even larger project - of course - which involves me digitizing basically my entire family history and making a movie of it. Why not, I say? I only have photos going back to some time in the 1800s, after all.....Nothing like having to scour the archives of the Mayflower for records. Sheesh! Piece of cake!

But in the meantime, I'm doing this "little" project, which has me staying up until insane hours of the night. But the upside of it is that I have been spending an enormous time with my family - if only virtually. I'm visiting relatives who have been gone for years. Each time my niece or brother sends me a box of old photos, I thrill to the sight of an uncle, wearing a crisp white shirt and pants, leaning casually against a railing, somewhere in Paris. Or my father and his best friend, pausing on the road in Cuba on their bicycle trip. My dad's best friend is wearing argyle socks, and they are both wearing leather shoes. Sneakers - let alone bicycle shoes - weren't invented yet.

These hours spent with my family made me remember my meema's noodles and cabbage. I posted about that dish here. The only difference in the way I make it these days as opposed to the way Meema did, is that I tend to use Smart Balance instead of butter for the most part. I'll add a little butter in at the end, because I want/need that flavor. Some recipes shouldn't be tinkered with, I know. But I want to live long enough to pass this on to my great nieces and nephews. And I want to pass along our family legacy to them as well. I want them to know where they came from. Who came before them. Whose laughter they will never hear, but whose genes they share.
The dish, of course, was my mother's. I know she's smiling at me whenever I eat her mom's "signature" dish.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Zucchini Rice Casserole

When I was in my 20s, I moved into my own apartment for the first time. My mom bought me a set of cutlery, as well as some glasses. Someone gave me a copy of "The Joy of Cooking", and I bought myself "The New York Times Cookbook", written by Craig Clairborne. Another friend came over and laid down new brick colored vinyl tiles in my kitchen, and the pots and pans were salvaged from an assortment of friends and relatives. When I was in my 20s, my cooking came from cookbooks, with additional help from my nose. I would open each jar of herbs and spices, give each a sniff and think "yes" or "no" about including them in the dish I was making. It was just a little scary, deviating from the recipe before me, but somehow I trusted my nose, and the dishes were usually quite edible.

When I met my husband and moved to New Mexico, I rarely got to cook. Bob loved cooking, and I was his sous-chef. He would tell me what he wanted chopped or sliced, and I would watch as he deftly maneuvered pots, pans, water, oil, various meats and vegetables. He opened jars of spices and threw handfuls into the pot without ever sniffing them. Then he'd walk over to the fridge and look into the door compartments or the bins below the shelves for something he might have forgotten. The first time I saw him cook, it was also a little scary. He was so brazen with his use of herbs and spices, I imagined that the outcome would be more than my palette could handle. He never followed a recipe. His food is what truly won my heart.

From Bob I learned to start with what I've got in my fridge. I learned not to be shy with my ingredients. That garlic needn't be doled out in half teaspoons, and that mushrooms could be thought of as an herbal addition to other veggies instead of being used as a vegetable dish. And I learned about prinicples - that if a recipe called for lemon, for instance, and I didn't have any, I could use a bit of vinegar instead. It would give me that sour taste. Or that beer was a perfectly good liquid to add to a stew, even if I didn't drink it as a beverage.

Now I live on my own again in a small house, and create meals which I can use all week. I start with what I've got in my fridge because shopping for food trumps shopping for clothes in my book, so my fridge usually has interesting ingredients. I love my farmer's market and the organic produce I get at various markets. With a few fresh ingredients and a little imagination, I now find it easy to throw together a dish which can satisfy for days. This one was made with the skills I learned from Bob and it had organic zucchinis and cherry tomatoes, onions and garlic, herbs, rice, and peccorino-romano cheese sprinkled liberally on top. And I ate it with a fork which I still have from my first apartment, on a plate which I inherited from my mom.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Boring meals and bad photos

I can be a bit obsessive. For instance, when I start on a project that interests me, I have a hard time tearing myself away from it and going to sleep. When I was a child, this translated into reading in bed under the covers with a flashlight. (Didn't everyone do that?) And then the next morning telling my mom that I felt awful and my stomach hurt and my head ached. She'd let me stay home from school, and once she and my dad were gone, I'd grab that book and spend the day in bed finishing it.

Nowadays this obsessive tendency manifests as an inability to turn out exciting meals. I rely on my old standbys - a scrambled egg, a roast chicken, open a can of salmon and make salmon salad - a bit of celery, some onion, a squeeze of lemon. No more capers left in the fridge. Oh least I've got bread in the freezer, and the lettuce is still recognizable. It will do.

I've never been a food photographer. I marvel at the way so many of you make me want to jump through the screen, fork in hand, and start digging in. This is a special talent which I do not possess. Instead, I am primarily a people photographer, interested in travel, photography and writing. And that, my dear readers, is where I've been for the last...almost month. I've been re-doing my photo website. Because good has never been good enough. So I've been at work on my images, creating a new look to the site, and making it feel more the way I want it. It's been exhausting. I fall into bed at weird hours, my neck aching from sitting in front of my computer for so long. All of this has been inspired by a photography workshop I took in March in Santa Fe.

But at long last, I can say that I am happy with the results. Yesssss!!! If you are interested in visiting the site, here's the link: wanderingeye-photo.

I should mention that my sister is having one of those "big" birthdays in June, and I have decided to put together a slide show for her. Photos of her when she was a child, all the way through the present tense, adding appropriate music. Another big project, but not quite as big as redoing my website. I will try to visit everyone's blog, but if I don't get to yours, please understand. I will be back. Promise!

In the meantime, I have posted a lousy photo of a pretty good stir-fry I threw together recently. It was some crazy hour of the nite when I photographed it and couldn't stand the yellow color of everything. So I did something, and right now I can't remember what it was. The result? Pink peppers. Yuck! At least the stir fry tasted good.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sometimes food is more than food....

Dear Mom,
I made matzohbrei this morning and thought of you....standing there in your blue robe, the skin on your arms grown almost paper thin, your nails perfectly polished. You held the spatula and waited patiently as the egg and matzoh mixture simmered slowly. Periodically you would carefully lift an edge and peer under to see if the underside was done - a toasty golden brown.

I see you in your kitchen, surrounded by the things of your life - your Good Housekeeping cookbook, the small, cream-colored pitcher with the gold band around it, the beautiful cobalt and white bowl in which you kept fruit - bananas for dad's cereal, oranges because you lived in Florida at the time and could get them even sweeter than those of my childhood...perhaps grapes, if they looked good. New things are in that kitchen, too -- your George Forman grill (did you use it more than once?) and a brand new, red tea kettle. ("Please drain and dry it after using it!")The radio is on, playing classical music softly in the background, (sorry, but I had to change it from that "elevator music" that you had going when I first arrived. Not that you minded classical, but the elevator stuff was much more consistent, like a daily dose of oatmeal), and we sat down to eat off your Blue Danube dishes.I have those dishes today, but not the tall, clear plastic pepper mill in which you kept black and white pepper corns, which I used in abundance on my matzohbrei. Nor do I have the etched crystal glasses with the round blue bases - almost like wine glasses without stems. I don't have the beautiful linen tablecloth and napkins, or the "good" silverware we used for our seders. And most importantly, I don't have you.Are there foods which play an important role in your life - not because they are elegant, or complex and rich, but because they evoke your childhood?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I'm back....

Springtime can be unpredictable in Santa Fe. I drove there for a week to do a photo workshop in portrait photography - not studio work, but working under all kinds of conditions - from the streets of the city, to being outdoors in the blazing sunlight in the middle of the day, to being indoors in a Harley dealership under fluorescent lights. The week started and ended with a blizzard...
I was a little concerned because my car didn't have snow tires and has rear wheel drive. But "fiddle-dee-dee", I said, and drove off to the workshop, conducted by the Santa Fe Photography Workshops and taught by Paul Mobley - a commercial photographer whose major interest is in photographing people. His latest book - "American Farmer - The Heart of Our Country" - is available on Amazon. It's filled with gorgeous, heart-felt photographs and touching stories from farmers and ranchers across this entire country. I know that if you're reading this blog, it's because you have an interest in food - cooking it and eating it. Well, this book fills in another piece of that story - the people who grow and raise the food for us - and it presents them with great dignity.
So, as I started to say, springtime can be unpredictable in northern New Mexico. The workshop started with a dinner given in a lovely gated community near the workshop facilities. When I arrived in Santa Fe, it was sunny. By the time I finished having lunch with a friend and finding my way to the house I was staying it, it had begun to cloud over. By the time I left for the dinner, I was driving in blizzard conditions. I managed to make it both there and back, even though the street sign was covered in snow by the time I drove home.
The next morning proved....interesting. All of the windows of my car were covered in sheets of ice. Needless to say, I didn't have an ice scraper. I live in San Diego, after all. I found a package in the trunk for a wheel lock (don't ask me what that is!), which comes with the cardboard on the back and that molded plastic on the front -- you know the kind - the stuff that you need a hacksaw to tear open? I used it to chop away at the ice on the windshield. It barely budged. My windows wouldn't go down, either, as they were frozen in place. So I held the door open with one hand and backed slowly out of the driveway, leaning out of the car to see where I was going. Fortunately, no one was coming, and I managed to maneuver myself onto the road with no mishaps.
But I knew I couldn't drive the 4 minutes to the workshop with the door open and my head hanging out of the car. So I pulled over, grabbed my improvised snow scraper and began hacking away again at the ice. This time I was more successful, chipping out a modest hole in the front and back, and a small hole on the side window. It was just enough visibility to ensure that I wasn't hitting anything, and I made it to the workshop, although I was shaking a little by the time I got there.
I knew that if I could make it there, then by the time we took off for the day's shooting, the sun would be out and the ice would have melted, which is exactly what happened. The rest of the week was sunny and warm - perfect spring weather. and then the last day - snow again!
But as they like to say in New Mexico, if you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes. It will change. And so it did...
Anyway, that's where I've been and what I've been doing lately. Not much cooking - eating out in restaurants instead. That's something I rarely do at home. One of my classmates took some shots of the food at Maria's - my favorite New Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe - but so far I haven't received them. If I do get them in a reasonable amount of time, I'll post them. If not, I will no doubt have lots more to post here of my own cooking. I'm still editing and sorting when I'm not at work. But my kitchen will not remain idle for long - it's still my favorite room in the house!

Oh - and if any of you are interested, here's a link to the final show of the students' work from the workshop. What I can tell you is that the people who walked in the door were snapshot photographers at the beginning of the week, and photographers by week's end. Paul was truly an amazing teacher!
Friday Nite Show

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fresh, fresh, fresh

I once tried to do a week's worth of cooking based on the alphabet. I don't know what came over me, but I decided that I'd try making each meal with the main ingredients of only one letter. For "A", I think I might have used apples, but I could have just as easily used "Asian pears". (I'm flexible. I don't recall now what I paired that with (Angus beef?)"B my name is butternut squash"....and I'd be delicious with bass..C is easy. I love cauliflower! And it could be paired with crab, or made into a chowder with corn.
D can be done with delicata squash..and Dover sole?You get the picture. The only important thing then, as it is now, is that the food be fresh.

I'm not sure how far down I made it before I was invited out to join other people for dinner. There's no way to do this in a restaurant, so that ended my alphabet soup. Or stew. Whatever.

Have you ever done anything quite this crazy? What's your version of playing with your food?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lox, because I can

When I was growing up on Long Island, lox and bagels were standard Sunday morning breakfast. Sometimes we would be treated to smoked whitefish too, but lox was a given. That and the Sunday New York Times. My parents would disappear behind the paper while my brother would either be teaching me some math he had learned (he was 2 years ahead of me in school), or we'd finish our bagels and head off to the basement where he'd be building his latest radio.

When I was growing up I never gave a thought to where lox came from, because I knew where it came from. It came from Max's delicatessen. That's where all the best stuff came from, including the best stories. It was kind of the central point of town, and every one of my parents friends shopped there, and everyone had their own funny story of what happened that day at Max's. Max was a character, to say the least. To begin with, Max was not actually his real name, but when he bought the store sometime before recorded history, it had a sign on it that said "Max's Delicatessen". So rather than change the sign, he changed his name.

My favorite story is one which could never happen in today's world, but is indicative of what it was like back in the days when people trusted each other. Max had a policy of giving any cop who was on his beat a sandwich for a quarter. Yes, you read that right - 25 cents. While it's true that everything cost less back then, 25 cents was still cheap enough to not cover his cost, I'm sure. But Max did it anyway. Max also used to yell at everyone who came into the store "Whaddaya want to buy this junk for???" Everyone laughed and Max would laugh too. One day Max looked out the window and saw a cop about to write a ticket for one of his customer's cars which was double parked outside. Max dropped his knife and ran out the door shaking his fist and screaming "If you give my customer a ticket, I'll poison you the next time you come in here!!!" The cop put away his book, and walked away laughing, as did everyone in the store. No one left Max's hungry, and no one left grumpy.

So, back to the lox. We always bought it from Max's, and it was always sliced paper thin, which was just the way we liked it. I've had different versions of it since then, and while I've always loved lox, some is better, and some - while perfectly edible - isn't the best. It wasn't until years and years later, at one family gathering at my brother's house, when my niece Rachael (who is a rock star chef, if you want my opinion) brought gravlox which she had made, that I realized that people actually could make lox. Not only that, but it could be smashingly good. Now, I know that gravlox is lox with a college education, but still, when you get down to it, we're talking salmon which has been salt cured.

Fast forward again to another family gathering (we do love to get together!), this time at my other brother's house in Florida, and my sister in law served lox and bagels for breakfast. It was terrific, and when I asked her where she got it, she said "I make it." (She's from Siberia.) "You did?" "Yes. It's seeemple. You just take 3 tablespoons salt to one tablespoon sugar. You mix together and then rub all over salmon. Cover it and leave it on counter over night. In the morning, there will be water in dish. Dump out water, wash salmon, take paper towel and dry. Rub a little olive oil on it and put in refrigerator for 3, 4 days. You have lox."

I've been making it ever since. I miss going to Max's and hearing him shout at everyone. But at least I can have lox any time I want - even on a Tuesday.

One Note: Use the fattiest lox you can find - it's better.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crab Chowder for a Rainy Day

Or should I say rainy week? It's not that I'd want to live in a place where it rains all the time, but I do love the rain we're having. I wish I had the time tomorrow to drive up to the Laguna Mountains to photograph in the snow. It seems to fall on the evenings where I have to go to work the next day. Most uncooperative! When I was up there last weekend, it looked like this:
It was raining when I took that photo. I drove up hoping that when I got above 4,000 feet I'd find some snow. No such luck. The predictions are that the snow levels should be down around 3,000 feet this evening. The photo above was taken closer to 6,000 feet. I'd love to see the world blanketed in white, and have the sounds of traffic muffled by the snow. If it lasts until Thursday, maybe....just maybe....

But the canyons are green and the little seeds I've planted from those heirloom tomatoes I bought at the farmer's market are getting a good soaking. I'm excited about having tomatoes in my garden again this year. Meanwhile the chard is up and thriving, and I also planted radicchio for the first time. Why not? That's something that makes San Diego special -- all the things that grow here with barely a nudge from me.

I don't have a fireplace in my little house, but if I did, I'd certainly fire it up. These days are made for fireplaces and soups. I think when I was younger, I had this fantasy of being able to spend my winter days curled up in front of the fireplace with a good book, some classical music playing softly, and a bowl of hot soup on the table next to me. Well, I've got the classical music. I've even got an incredibly good book I've been reading -- "The Short Stories of Lydia Davis". She's a spare writer with an astonishing grasp of psychology. And now, thanks to a little "extra" time (what on earth is that supposed to mean?), I've got a rich, warming soup.
Chowders are wonderful repositories for this and that - the things you don't have a lot of but which add depth and complexity to a meal. I've made clam chowder before, and I thought of this as a variation on that theme. With some milk and fish stock as a base, you can pretty much add any of the standards of a good chowder. For me that included a couple of small potatoes I had gotten at the farmer's market - red ones that hadn't made it into another dish. I started with them, some onions, a couple of stalks of celery, a little garlic (of course!) and a red pepper, sliced and put into a pot to saute in butter before adding the stock and milk.

I'm usually conscious about the amount of fat I consume, but this rain and the cooler temperatures it brings has made me crave more of it than usual. So instead of using Earth Balance, I used real butter. Even added some cream to make it richer. Let's just say that when I decide to "sin", I don't mess around! I used canned crab meat, but if you've got the time and patience, you could use fresh, and you could combine different kinds of crab meat - snow and king are good choices. And because there was a little bit of corn left in that bag in the freezer, I threw it in as well. A pinch of salt, a dash of sugar and another dash of cayenne pepper brought the whole thing together.

The only part of the picture that doesn't match that fantasy? I have to work tomorrow. But fortunately I enjoy what I do! And I'll have some wonderful leftovers waiting for me at the end of the day.